Lukashenka in Davos…
17:39, 31/01/2007, Andrei Sannikov
Strangely, the last time the leadership of Belarus visited Davos was 12 years ago. In January 1995 Prime Minister Mikhail Chyhir arrived to the World Economic Forum still with a hope for a normal development of his country. People expressed interest in him as the head of the government of a state which could follow the path of reforms. Suffice it to say that he was the first Prime Minister whom the newly elected head of the European Commission Jacques Santer met. Then, in the distant 1995 Mr Santer promised to remember about that and pay special attention to Belarus.
It was a good start. However, it has become a finish at the same time. The Belarusian authorities were not allowed t visit Davos any more. Belarusian businessmen were not invited to Davos either, though their colleagues from other pos-Soviet countries were welcomed there. What’s the use to speak to a businessman working under a dictatorship? He is either serving this dictatorship or is in hiding from it. In any case, he cannot enter into obligations. Opposition hadn’t been insisting on its participation in the Forum, perfectly understanding that it cannot be a full-fledged partner having no real levers of power on Lukashenka’s policy.
The Belarusian regime has one answer: “We can do without Davos!” We can certainly do without it, like we can do without Brussels, Strasbourg, Warsaw, Vilnius, Prague and Stockholm… But we cannot do without Moscow. And suddenly it has turned out that we have to think how to do without Moscow as well. Perhaps we should have started with that? It does not mean we should have demanded to raise energy resources prices for us, but in the sense of not setting independence on stake in a fishy game of reviving the USSR. Maybe then we wouldn’t be left with an empty pipe in freezing temperatures.
The new year row of Belarusian and Russian officials over the oil and gas was a vivid example of the “fraternal friendship” forced on us by Lukashenka and the Kremlin for many years.
Discussions on who has won in the fight are not finished. Figures are coming into view, economic calculations are being referred to, and schemes of pipelines are demonstrated. However the more arithmetic is used in Minsk and Moscow, the more one is sure that the matter does not concern mutual payments, or market relations, and not a dispute of economic entities. In reality, how could one believe that Moscow and Minsk have carried out some economic talks when even figures prove the opposite? For instance, Gazprom stated that gas price for Belarus would be set from $230 to $260 per thousand cubic metres, and agreed for $100, it means that the price has been brought down by 2.5 times. And Minsk asserted that Beltrasngaz costs 17 billion dollars, and agreed for 5 billion. Is such huge variation in prices is normal for economic talks?
Figures are important certainly. There is a difference how to pay for energy resources and how much to pay. But a more important aspect here is different: as it turned out, not only Belarus’ independence is no part of the Kremlin’s calculation, but Lukashenka’s independence is undesirable for them as well. It is a possible explanation of the insistent and long-term support of Lukashenka by the Kremlin, despite of the disgusting nature of his regime. Lukashenka suited Moscow by keeping Belarus in some mediaeval state. The political system of the Soviet type excluded normal relations with the West, separated Belarusian economy from mutually beneficial cooperation with industrialised countries. However, Moscow was developing these relations quickly. By today Russia has created a strong system of relations not only with the EU, but with the “terrible” NATO, at the same time melting with Belarus which is stuck in aggressive anti-western rhetoric and encouraging this aggression. Every attack by Lukashenka against the NATO and the EU was accompanied by a storm of applaud by high officials with shoulder straps in Russia.
Glaring human rights violations in Belarus have given a chance for Russian Foreign Ministry to take it upon oneself a role of Lukashenka’s regime advocate on international arena, in international organizations and in bilateral relations. Defending Lukashenka’s regime, Moscow made it clear to the West they should carry out negotiations about Belarus’ future just with Moscow.
Having driven Belarus into an economic deadlock, it is easier to snatch control of it.
The time has come to act obviously, and Moscow has no doubts about quick surrender of the Belarusian regime. Lukashenka’s statements after the beginning of oil and gas conflicts could be understood in a way that either an unconditional political surrender, that means surrender of Belarus’ independence, or inevitable economic capitulation have been offered to him, which in fact is the same thing.
The whole philosophy of Lukashenka’s regime – build a model of a strong hand, stamp out dissent and wait for your chance in Russia – was crushed in a flash. Suddenly Lukashenka stopped being a guarantor of a peculiar Belarusian stability. He stopped being a guarantor of stability for the political establishment and business as well. Perplexed faces of officials trying to give some explanations of the situation or of their actions were the best proof for that. Meditative weariness of Sidorski’s face after new year talks should mean that he knew he would become whipping boy after inevitable utilities pubic utilities and price hike. Or was he thinking about the fate of Belarus? About his being an accomplice in trade on independence? Maybe officials and businessmen started to think about their future in their country. Previously they were satisfied with the regime just because of stability of their status under it. Maybe somebody started to contemplate the EU enlargement this year after Romania and Bulgaria joined? Now these European countries which starting positions were almost the same as in Belarus, could be able to discuss issues of their energy security on equal terms and enjoy the fullness of support of the EU?
Verbally Lukashenka is trying to find some way out, recollecting the fact that should be remembered always, a geostrategic position of Belarus. Having damaged relations with all neighbours, he is trying to enlist up support of at least some of them. It seems he counts on Ukraine. But the situation in Ukraine is different. It was stated at a press-conference on Tuesday, January 30, by a director of Russian and Asian programs of Washington World Security Institute Nikolay Zlobin. He believes that “Yanukovich has done the right thing, a very rear thing for post-Soviet politicians. He accepted new conditions, and won in the new conditions”. It is highly questionable whether Ukrainian Prime Minister would risk his new reputation by supporting Lukashenka’s odious regime.
Yanukovich and Medvedev had a dinner together in Davos. Even if they mentioned Belarus, it was most probable in discussing a possibility to switch transit to Ukraine.
Andrei Sannikov is an international coordinator of the Charter’97 press-center, a former deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus.